The Stanford Class of ’98 Ten-Year Reunion was last weekend, and I got a chance to catch up with Christopher Tin, composer of the Civ4 theme song, “Baba Yetu.” We couldn’t help but talk some about the piece’s remarkable run. Since its release three years ago, the song has taken on a life of its own – you can even buy sheet music now!
I don’t think we’ve ever told the tale about how the song came into being. It actually all started at the Five-Year Reunion, which was, of course, five years ago! At the Class Party, I bumped into Chris – we were roommates at Oxford my junior year – and he talked about his work so far as a composer, and I talked about the early days of Civ4. We thought a little about how great it would be if we ever got to work together on the same project but left it at that, essentially.
At the same time, I was looking at intro music for our Civ4 prototype to help give it the right “feel.” I chose a track from a CD Chris had given me long ago – a Talisman album called After Silence. Talisman is a Stanford a capella group that specializes in African and African-American music, and the track, “The Rainmaker,” was perfect for them. A sweeping Hans Zimmer vocal epic from the movie The Power of One, the piece has a spectactural climax that I edited to emerge as soon as the sun crested over the Earth on the into screen. The piece just fit perfectly, establishing the game’s tone. Everyone on the team knew immediately that we needed a piece just like it.
My first instinct was to just get the actual piece itself, so I e-mail Chris, who was the producer on After Silence. He said that the group would love to let us use the piece, but that geeting approval from Zimmer would be very difficult as he doesn’t generally license his music to video games involving war. The next step was obvious – why not have Chris write a piece of music for Talisman inspired by “The Rainmaker” to be Civ4‘s new theme song? The rest is history, I suppose. Chris decided on his own to use The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili and to add an orchestral accompaniment. My only contribution was encouraging Chris to put in a bridge, which I though would help frame the song’s peak. Needless to say, Chris did a masterful job.
On the game’s release, “Baba Yetu” was a stand-out moment for the product, receiving positive mentions in many reviews. The song’s popularity grew when Video Games Live began using it as a standard part of their repertoire. Here’s an early example from the Hollywood Bowl:
Since then, videos have been consistently popping up on YouTube of choirs performing the song all around the world. Here’s an excellent version from the Valencia High School Choir (and Orchestra!):
The Veritas High School Choir does a solid version:
This version from the Worth County R-3 Choir is quite pretty:
Hillcrest Christian High does a good job too (and looks like they’re having fun!):
Wake Forest Rolesville High School Master Chorale adds a couple dancers:
Spokane Valley University High School does a big version with some good soloists:
This intimate version from a Berkeley A Capella group named For Christ’s Sake is a nice, alternate take:
Ditto for the Horace Greeley High School Madrigal Choir:
My favorite version, though, is by Värmlandskören from Sweden. I love how they really lean into the piece – not the standard tempo, but it works: